More Brick Action! Woot! You Know You Want It!

Continuing the gripping tale of Home Improvement Insanity. Some old guys fill their need for order and beauty by, say, collecting stamps or taking up the banjo, civilized and largely sweat-free activities. Me? I sling bricks. (1)

Micro back story: about 20 years ago, there was a small, ugly front yard in the building we rented for the school. The root system of a large, unruly tree had created a very uneven surface. I thought that we could maybe put in a foot high retaining wall following the contour of the existing uneven portion, backfill a little behind it, and have a somewhat more useful and much less ugly area. Someone suggested we could get free (2) bricks for this project off of Craig’s List, which we did.

It came out really cute, and it was fun! Ever since, I’d been looking for opportunities to do more brick work. Found some more brick work! A couple orders of magnitude more! Whee!

When we last left the Project That’s Even Money to Kill Me Before I Finish It, was looking like this:

Dirt. A hole in the ground. Little patch of concrete. Couple 2 x 4s staked to the ground.

This week, finished the forms and added some rebar for the footers for the next section of fence planter. The Caboose, our 15 year old, helped me pour the concrete Friday:

If there were a Concrete Finishing Merit Badge, the Caboose would have earned it.

Saturday, got to work on finishing the brick walk. Didn’t grab any in progress, ‘fat old man on his hands and knees putting down gravel, sand and bricks’ photos, but snapped a couple ‘sweeping dry mortar into the spaces’:

Cleaned up, sprayed it down with the hose, and voila! A mere 8 hours of work later, looks pretty good:

Completed walk, including the old stuff from a couple years ago.
Couple steps down toward the new stuff…
“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Demille.” The concrete to the left gets the planter/fence treatment seen above. Hidden are the little bits of concrete poured earlier, upon which are affixed the bricks that would otherwise have one side not supported by the planter or curb. You can see at the top the bit that completes the curve around the power pole.

So, assuming I can hold up physically (so far, so good, and way, way better than the last 2-3 years) I will try to at least get the planter/fence finished. Then, what remains is the step down from the porch to the orchard, and the south planter/fence combo. The first is a little complicated but not too huge a project; the second is vary simple but a lot of work. Think I have enough bricks.

My daughter and her boyfriend dropped by while I was working, and I asked her if I’d started this project before she left for college or after. We determined that she’d left already, so it could not be more than 7 years running. We settled on 5. I’ve been at this for 5 years. Sheesh.

In related news, as this whole project started when we had to take out an old walnut tree in the front year and I decided I wanted to put in a mini orchard, as front lawns are definitionally useless, at least in the California suburbs, here’s how the little trees are doing:

This is a dwarf fig tree that’s about 15 years old. It spent the first dozen years in a half wine barrel, and was , you know, a dwarf tree. Well, it clearly likes being in the ground, where we planted it about 3 years ago: even though I trimmed it back severely this past winter (3), it’s now threatening to take over the porch. Next winter, it’s going to have to be cut back to about 4 sticks 3′ high, given its growth rate.

On the bright side, up until this year, the figs it produced were also small, and a little bland. This year, for the last couple weeks, I pick about half a dozen nice plump large figs every day. When the tree broke dormancy, it immediately put out a bunch of figs. Then, when the new growth kicked in, it started putting out more, many more, on the new branches. The first round is ripening now, the next round has got a few weeks to go. Last summer we had three rounds of figs ripening throughout the summer, with a fourth round forming that didn’t make it before winter. Let’s see how it goes.

Wish I liked figs more. Need to figure out more uses for them. Got some fig jam cooking on the stove now. I hear there’s a fig jam on toasted brie thing, but that’s not going keep up with the supply no matter how tasty.

Sadly, the avocado trees didn’t make it. While the other trees thrive (if I let the cherry go instead of trimming it relentlessly, I could probably harvest it for lumber in a decade or two), the avocados were stunted pathetic little sticks. So I yanked them – root balle the size of my hand, after 3 years. May try again, but with much larger trees planted a little later in the year, on the theory that bigger trees with 9 months to get established might tolerate the winter better. There are plenty of avocado tress in out neighborhood, so it is possible to grow them here.

The avocados were in a choice spot, and I couldn’t let it just lay fallow, so:

Up front: pumpkins, since thinned to one plant per hill. Plan is to train them along/between the raised beds. Mid: Tomatoes and peppers. Got a late start, but we have a very long growing season. Background: back side of the brink planter, with two volunteer vines we’re waiting to see of what, along with some flowers & rosemary, and a pepper and tomato that a kid we know grew as a school project but didn’t want.

Way more than enough for now. Further bulletins when I feel like it, far beyond what events warrant.

  1. And play piano, read, and write. But the brick slinging is more colorful, shall we say. The language I use when I screw up is, at least.
  2. “Free” for the price of going to get them and cleaning mortar off them. I’ve cleaned mortar off several thousand bricks by this point. You get to be a connoisseur: mortar more than, I dunno, 50 years old? come right off with the proper application of leverage; the new stuff, especially refractory cement, is harder than the bricks themselves – if you hit the mortar hard enough to break it, the bricks break as well. You want bricks that were either pavers with little or no mortar on them, or from somebody’s old chimney. You do not want bricks from some suburban barbecue pit project that didn’t fit with the new homeowner’s lifestyle choices. The sad part: in another 50 years, there won’t be enough chimneys coming down for this whole ‘free brick’ thing to work. (In case you’re curious: professional urban recyclers seem to get the big project, like demolitions of old brick building and especially pulling up old brick-paved streets. For us amateur bargain hunters, it has to be small-fry projects.)
  3. Fig trees bleed quite a lot of sap if you trim them when they are growing, I’ve read they can be damaged and even die. Thus, I’m not going to trim this thing for another 6 months, until dormant this coming winter.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

5 thoughts on “More Brick Action! Woot! You Know You Want It!”

  1. I’m learning! One of these days I’ll take a whack at it. Just a little border around a flower bed in our yard …

  2. Layer fig jam, habanero (or some other Chile) with cream cheese, bake until bubbly and serve with chips

    Breakfast toast: aged gouda, thin salami and fig jam

    Poached figs with vanilla gelato and champagne.

    Amazing brickwork!

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